After the rush of adrenalin, headlines and political panic, the MPs’ expenses debacle – while still very much alive – has now hit the ‘long grass’ where it is mainly the more dedicated Westminster watchers who are prying.
For Labour, a damp British summer is probably the last major opportunity for trying to come up with a strategy to re-negotiate the Brown administration’s (and the Prime Minister’s) perilous position.
Opinion polls suggest that those sections of the population who will decide the outcome of the next general election, now less than a year away, have already concluded, “it’s time for a change.”
The old adage that it is governments which lose elections, not opposition parties which win them, will be decisive once more. Labour complain that the Tories are ‘the same old welfare-cutting, rich-privileging party’ underneath Cameron’s re-spray. But the people who need to hear that do not seem to care enough – and it is dissatisfaction with Labour’s tired and tarnished image that is holding sway and keeping the Liberal Democrats out of the frame once more.
It is hard to see this macro picture shifting much in the coming months. But then. precious few foresaw the economic collapse and the expenses scandal and if these had occurred within whiff of actual electoral grapeshot they would have been revolutionary (and still might be). So no-one can say for sure that something dramatic will not turn the tables at the last moment.
That is what Labour strategists are still telling themselves, though few really believe it. Reconsolidation in opposition is the undertow discussion, while smaller parties (including Greens and nationalists in Scotland and Wales) try to figure out how to push regional advantage or how to prize the crevices of the established system into major cracks.
For radical reformers, which includes a raft of organisations and individuals old and new who want to see major electoral, parliamentary and constitutional change, the result of the next election is something they will have to deal with – rather than something which inspires genuine hope for ‘a new politics’.
From the perspective of the emerging Real Change / Rowntree Reform Trust coalition, a close-run or hung parliament could be a good outcome, though a working Conservative majority is what most pundits are still expecting.
Those whose social concerns are not predominantly party-dependent see a major reformulation of the parliamentary and political system itself – one that takes grassroots drivers really seriously – as being the key issue. Changing the managers from time-to-time is not enough.
But it is difficult to get public, media and political traction for that debate because it runs counter to a set of strong, historic vested interests. However, for those not content with ‘politics as usual’, it is where the decisive action is.
So look out for a major convention on ‘Real Change’ in the near future, with input from civic groups (including churches) and a manifesto for wide-ranging reform which will be seeking to make Prospective Parliamentary Candidates of all hues sit up and take notice.
(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. www.simonbarrow.net
See Ekklesia's detailed briefing on 'Alternative Politics: The State of Independents' here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/independent_politics